The history of electric lighting
At our annual village quiz night, I caused a bit of a scene. The question was simple enough, ‘Who invented the light bulb?’ The answer, according to the compere, was Edison. ‘Well actually’, I’m afraid I couldn’t resist piping up, ‘electric lighting is much older’. During the 19th century 2 types of electric lamps were developed the incandescent lamp (light created by passing the current through a filament) and the arc lamp (where the light is created by electricity leaping the gap between electrodes).
Humphry Davy first demonstrated an arc lamp in 1806 but the blinding light was impractical and could not be powered for more than a few minutes. He was a dazzling speaker and he hosted lectures which became major social events in London. However, it took quite some time for electricity to become a practical form of lighting.
It was Joseph Swan, an inventor from Sunderland, who developed the first practical lamp and led the way in early electrical lighting. Swan supplied arc lamps to light the Picture Gallery at Cragside in Northumberland in 1878, the first house to be lit by electricity, and for Mosely Street in Newcastle, the first electrically lit street in 1879. (1879 was, incidentally the year Edison first demonstrated his own lamp in the USA). In 1881 Swan opened Benwell Lamps, the world’s first light bulb factory.
So if Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, why he is famous for doing so? Well, true to his American roots, he took it to market! He successfully registered patents and tried, but failed, to sue Swan, so then took him as a business partner instead. In 1883 Edison and Swan was formed and created bulbs which were cheaper and lasted longer than anyone else’s. Edison was a highly successful spin doctor and his vision of centralised electricity supply stations was paramount to his success.
Throughout the Victorian era electricity remained extremely expensive leaving gas as the popular choice for most middle-class households. Wider availability of electricity coincided with the arrival of the Arts and Crafts influence and, from the Edwardian period we begin to see a proliferation of new ‘electroliers’ replacing gas fittings (gasoliers).
It is not until after the First World War that electricity found its way into homes on a large scale. The metal filament lamps had been perfected in 1911 and the Electricity (Supply) Act passed in 1926, led to the establishment of the national grid. We finally had clean, safe lighting at the flick of a switch no more fumes or bad smells.
So Edison may not have invented the light bulb Davy can lay rights to that claim. He didn’t even design the first practical light bulb or register the first light bulb patent that was down to Swan. What Edison does deserve credit for is making electric lighting available. When he saw he was trailing Swan he cleverly joined forces with him (if you can’t beat them, join them!) and developed the supply chain. He owned a power company, later known as General Electric, and, let’s face it, without a source of electricity to light it, a light bulb is just a bulb.
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When Edison Turned Night into Day
As the remaining hours of 1879 dwindled to a precious few, a Pennsylvania Railroad special steamed into a remote New Jersey hamlet. Scores of men dressed in elegant evening wear and women wrapped in short fur jackets and silk gowns stepped off the nighttime train eager to set foot in the future. Although dressed for New Year’s Eve celebrations, these revelers felt content to let others ring in a new decade while they witnessed the launch of a new epoch in human history.
The sleepy village of Menlo Park boasted only a dozen scattered houses, but it promised a luminous New Year’s Eve spectacle unrivaled even by cosmopolitan Manhattan, 20 miles to the north. As soon as the train passengers disembarked and shuffled up the snow-sprinkled stairs, they cast their gazes skyward in wonder. Although storm clouds blotted out the twinkling stars, the heavens still sparkled, though not from familiar pyrotechnics, but from something foreign to their 19th-century eyes: a series of gleaming incandescent light bulbs that bathed Christie Street in an artificial radiance.
The trail blazed by the little globes of fire sitting atop slender wooden lampposts stretching toward the night sky led the frosty crowds to a two-story clapboard building enveloped in a warm glow. Upstairs in his laboratory, Thomas Edison dazzled all the guests crowded inside his “invention factory” with the first public demonstration of his latest marvel—the first practical incandescent light bulb.
Already hailed as the “Wizard of Menlo Park” for his invention of the phonograph and his telegraph and telephone innovations, Edison now stood ready to revolutionize daily life for the majority of Americans who still relied upon tallow candles, kerosene and even whale oil for illumination and for additional millions dependent on noxious gaslights, which blackened walls and furniture, reeked of sulfur and ammonia and had the potential to explode.
Patent drawing for Edison’s light bulb
Edison was hardly the first to develop the incandescent light, which was first patented in England in 1841 by Frederick de Moleyns. In the ensuing four decades, however, numerous inventors failed to produce a safe, bright and affordable bulb that could stay lit for more than a few minutes at a time. Edison threw himself into the challenge of developing a commercially viable incandescent light in 1878, and investors in the Edison Electric Light Company provided him with the necessary seed money. The 31-year-old inventor sought to develop not only a working bulb, but an entire lighting system powered by a generator.
Edison bragged that he would have a viable bulb ready in just months, but he soon found himself stymied like the inventors who came before him. Inside the laboratory on his 34-acre research-and-development campus at Menlo Park, the “Wizard” and his 20- to 30-person team of young assistants succeeded in creating a vacuum with no more than a 1-millionth part of air that allowed a platinum filament to light without catching fire, but Edison consigned it to the metery of inventions” because the metal was too costly. Turning to cheaper carbon filaments, Edison tested raw silk, cork and even the beard hair of two of his employees with little success. The big breakthrough finally came in October 1879 when a high-resistance, carbon filament burned continuously for more than 13 hours.
On December 21, 1879, a full-page article in the New York Herald announced “the great inventor’s triumph in electric illumination” in producing a light “like the mellow sunset of an Italian autumn.” Although the newspaper announced that Edison would stage his first public exhibition of his electric light on New Year’s Eve, work at Menlo Park came to a standstill over the next 10 days as a ceaseless flow of overanxious pilgrims descended upon the laboratory to take a sneak peek.
When Edison finally opened his doors to the public on December 31, a human wave surged into the laboratory, ablaze with 25 brilliant electric lights that glistened off the hundreds of glass bottles lining the shelves on the walls as well as the pipes on the out-of-tune organ that America’s most famous inventor occasionally played with his soot-stained hands. Hundreds huddled around Edison as he explained in plain language and a homespun manner how a 2-inch-long, horseshoe-shaped thread of carbonized cardboard could glow for hours on end inside a pear-shaped vacuum bulb when an electric current ran through it. He even showed how a bulb still burned for hours even after submerged in water. The awestruck audience also noticed that the incandescent bulbs didn’t flicker like gaslights and emitted softer light than harsh electric arc lamps.
Edison poses with an early light bulb, c. 1883 (Credit: Boyer/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)
The crowd who had invaded Edison’s inner sanctum tried the inventor’s patience, but he shook hands and answered questions even from his skeptics who came to grill him. The laboratory staff, though, spent as much time futilely guarding their fragile equipment from the visitors conducting their own impromptu experiments as they did demonstrating the vacuum pump and the baking of carbon filaments. Edison’s assistants repeatedly turned down requests to buy the bulbs, but eight were stolen anyway by guests who left with a piece of history.
Not only did a new decade dawn in Menlo Park when the clock struck midnight, so did the electric age. The only disappointed visitors to Edison’s laboratory on New Year’s Eve may have been the crestfallen representatives of the Brooklyn Gaslight Company who realized with everyone else that they had just seen the light of the future. Just the rumors of Edison’s breakthrough had sent gas company stocks plummeting by 15 percent over the past month, and that was just the beginning. The fortunes were reversed for the stockholders of the Edison Electric Light Company, whose original $100 shares now sold for $4,500, according to the Boston Globe.
On January 27, 1880, Edison received the patent for his electric light. Three decades later when asked to reflect upon which of his inventions was his greatest, he scrawled across the bottom of a letter: “Incandescent Electric Lighting and Power System.”
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Thomas Alva Edison, born in Ohio on February 11, 1847, was one of the most well-known inventors of all time. He spent a few of his early years in formal schooling, but he received most of his education at home. Thomas set up a laboratory in the basement of his family's Michigan home and spent most of his time experimenting. Edison's mother, Nancy, knew her son was fond of chemistry and electronics, so she gave him books to read on the subjects. One book explained how to perform chemistry experiments at home Thomas did every one in the book.
A biographer of Edison once noted: "His mother had accomplished that which all truly great teachers do for their pupils, she brought him to the stage of learning things for himself, learning that which most amused and interested him, and she encouraged him to go on in that path. It was the very best thing she could have done for this singular boy."
"My mother was the making of me. She understood me she let me follow my bent."
In 1859, the Grand Trunk Railroad was extended to Port Huron, Michigan. Thomas got a job as a newsboy for the day-long trip to Detroit and back. Since there was a five-hour layover in Detroit, Edison asked for permission to move his laboratory to the baggage car of the train so he could continue his experiments there. This worked for a little while, until the train lurched forward and spilled some chemicals, setting the laboratory on fire. While working for the railroad, Thomas saved the life of a station official's child who had fallen onto the tracks of an oncoming train. As a way of thanking him for saving his child's life, the father taught Thomas how to use the telegraph.
Thomas became so good at using the telegraph that he got a job working as a telegrapher sending signals between the United States and Canada. He began experimenting with ways to improve the telegraph, which led to his invention of the automatic telegraph, duplex telegraph, and message printer. It was about this time that Thomas dedicated his life to being a full-time inventor.
Thomas Edison moved to New York and set up a small laboratory in Newark, New Jersey. He continued his work on the telegraph and his ideas also gave birth to the universal stock ticker. In 1875, Edison wanted to build a new laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. His father Samuel supervised the construction of the new laboratory it opened in 1876.
In the period from 1878 to 1880 Edison and his associates worked on at least three thousand different theories to develop an efficient incandescent lamp. Incandescent lamps make light by using electricity to heat a thin strip of material (called a filament) until it gets hot enough to glow. Many inventors had tried to perfect incandescent lamps to "sub-divide" electric light or make it smaller and weaker than it was in the existing arc lamps, which were too bright to be used for small spaces such as the rooms of a house.
Edison's lamp would consist of a filament housed in a glass vacuum bulb. He had his own glass blowing shed where the fragile bulbs were carefully crafted for his experiments. Edison was trying to come up with a high resistance system that would require far less electrical power than was used for the arc lamps. This could eventually mean small electric lights suitable for home use.
A look inside the bulb.
Edison's unique pointed-top design.
A close-up of the socket and inside of the bulb.
Close-up view of the label.
View of the bottom of the bulb.
By January 1879, at his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, Edison had built his first high resistance, incandescent electric light. It worked by passing electricity through a thin platinum filament in the glass vacuum bulb, which delayed the filament from melting. Still, the lamp only burned for a few short hours. In order to improve the bulb, Edison needed all the persistence he had learned years before in his basement laboratory. He tested thousands and thousands of other materials to use for the filament. He even thought about using tungsten, which is the metal used for light bulb filaments now, but he couldn't work with it given the tools available at that time.
One day, Edison was sitting in his laboratory absent-mindedly rolling a piece of compressed carbon between his fingers. He began carbonizing materials to be used for the filament. He tested the carbonized filaments of every plant imaginable, including baywood, boxwood, hickory, cedar, flax, and bamboo. He even contacted biologists who sent him plant fibers from places in the tropics. Edison acknowledged that the work was tedious and very demanding, especially on his workers helping with the experiments. He always recognized the importance of hard work and determination.
"Before I got through," he recalled, "I tested no fewer than 6,000 vegetable growths, and ransacked the world for the most suitable filament material."
"The electric light has caused me the greatest amount of study and has required the most elaborate experiments," he wrote. "I was never myself discouraged, or inclined to be hopeless of success. I cannot say the same for all my associates."
"Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."
Edison decided to try a carbonized cotton thread filament. When voltage was applied to the completed bulb, it began to radiate a soft orange glow. Just about fifteen hours later, the filament finally burned out. Further experimentation produced filaments that could burn longer and longer with each test. Patent number 223,898 was given to Edison's electric lamp.
The Edison lamp from our Attic is dated January 27, 1880. It is a product of the continued improvements Edison made to the 1879 bulb. Even though it is over a hundred years old, this bulb looks very much like the light bulbs lighting your house right now. The base, or socket, on this 19th century lamp is similar to the ones still used today. It was one of the most important features of Edison's lamp and electrical system. The label on this bulb reads, "New Type Edison Lamp. Patented Jan. 27, 1880 OTHER EDISON PATENTS."
In the early 1880s, Edison planned and supervised the construction of the first commercial, central electric power station in New York City. In 1884, Edison began construction of a new laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. The West Orange facility is now part of the Edison National Historic Site, run by the National Park Service.
Before he died in 1931, Edison patented 1,093 of his inventions. The wonders of his mind include the microphone, telephone receiver, universal stock ticker, phonograph, kinetoscope (used to view moving pictures), storage battery, electric pen, and mimeograph. Edison improved many other existing devices as well. From a discovery made by one of his associates, he patented the Edison effect (now called thermionic diode), which is the basis for all electron tubes. Edison will forever be remembered for his contributions to the incandescent light bulb. Even though he didn't dream up the first light bulb ever crafted, and technology continues to change every day, Edison's work with light bulbs was a spark of brilliance on the timeline of invention. At the very beginning of his experiments with the incandescent lamp in 1879, he said:
"We are striking it big in the electric light, better than my vivid imagination first conceived. Where this thing is going to stop Lord only knows."
Note: The object pictured above is part of The Franklin Institute's protected collection of objects. The images are © The Franklin Institute. All rights are reserved.
Arc lamp Edit
Open Arc lamps were used in the late 19th and early 20th century by many large cities for street lighting. Their bright light required that the early arc lamps be placed on rather high (60 to 150-foot) towers as such, they might be considered the predecessor to today's high-mast lighting systems seen along major highways. They were also widely used in film and stage. Arc lamps use high current between two electrodes (typically carbon rods) and require substantial maintenance. Arc lights have mainly been used where high lumen light was needed such as lighthouses. Today very few open arc lights remain in operation, primarily in a few lighthouses and some industrial uses. The only remaining examples of original street lighting use are the moonlight tower of Austin, Texas.
A xenon lamp is a high pressure sealed arc lamp, and is in common usage today where extreme brightness in a relatively small space is required, typically in motion picture projectors in theaters, and stage and motion picture lighting. The sealed arc lamps do not suffer from the inefficiency and high maintenance problems of the original open arc lamps, but they are not well suited for most street lighting use.
Incandescent light Edit
Incandescent lights using a tungsten filament were the first low power electric lights in cities worldwide and introduced some 20 years after open arc lamps [ when? ] . Some can still be found in streetlight service. Others have been installed in popular downtown areas of major cities to have a nostalgia effect. Incandescent light has excellent Color rendering index rated at 100. Color temperature is generally around 2000–3200 K depending on the type of lamp and replaced the higher maintenance arc lamps.
An incandescent light bulb is less efficient when compared to High-intensity discharge lamp and gas discharge lighting such as Neon light and are being replaced by more efficient LEDs or converted to mains voltage lamps. Tungsten-halogen incandescent lights which are brighter and more efficient and are very commonly used in theatrical and motion picture lighting and better color temperature characteristics are little used in street lighting due to their relatively short lifespan.
Standard incandescent lamps are also very commonly used in traffic signals, although they are increasingly replaced by LEDs.
Fluorescent lamp Edit
The fluorescent lamp first became common in the late 1930s. These lamps are a form of discharge lamp where a small current causes a gas in the tube to glow. The typical glow is strong in ultraviolet but weak in visible light. The glass envelope is coated in a mixture of phosphors that are excited by the ultraviolet light and emit visible light. Fluorescent lamps are much more efficient than incandescent lamps, and for a short time became popular in street lighting both because of the efficiency and the novelty value. Fluorescent lamps for street lighting were first introduced to the public for commercial uses at the 1939 World's Fair.
The major problems with standard fluorescent lamps for street lighting is that they are large, and produce a diffused non-directional light. They are also rather fragile. Therefore, the fixtures needed to be large, and could not be mounted more than 20–30 feet above the pavement if they were to produce an acceptable light level.
Fluorescent lamps quickly fell out of favor for main street lighting, but remained popular for parking lot and outside building illumination for roadside establishments.
Mercury vapor Edit
In 1948, the first regular production mercury vapor (MV) streetlight assembly was developed. It was deemed a major improvement over the incandescent light bulb, and shone much brighter than incandescent or fluorescent lights. Initially people disliked them because their bluish-green light made people look like they had the blood drained from them. Other disadvantages are that a significant portion of their light output is ultraviolet, and they "depreciate" that is, they get steadily dimmer and dimmer with age while using the same amount of energy, and in a few rare instances, they also cycle at the end of their life cycles. Even rarer is they can burn out, especially when the light is being burned while dim (usually at the end of the life cycle). Mercury lamps developed in the mid-1960s were coated with a special material made of phosphors inside the bulb to help correct the lack of orange/red light from mercury vapor lamps (increasing the color rendering index(CRI)). The UV light excites the phosphor, producing a more "white" light. These are known as "color corrected" lamps. Most go by the deluxe (DX) designation on the lamp and have a white appearance to the bulb. Mercury Vapor Bulbs come in either clear or coated with powers of 50, 75, 100, 175, 250, 400, 700 or 1,000 Watts. The Mercury Vapor lamp is considered obsolete by today's standards and many places are taking them out of service.
As of 2008, the sale of new mercury vapor streetlights and ballasts was banned in the US by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, although the sale of new bulbs for existing fixtures does continue, but the bulbs were also banned in 2015 in Europe. Mercury vapor fixtures can be operated with metal halide lamp (MH) ballasts, and are likely to be rewired with these ballasts in coming years. In response to the ban, some older MV streetlights will most likely be modified to use either high pressure sodium or metal halide lamps in the near future, because they are known to last longer than newer luminaires. In some areas where the MV lights are either failing or being replaced, they are being replaced by either HPS, LED, or Induction fixtures of similar lumen output, but also lower wattages and power consumption as well.
High pressure sodium Edit
Around 1970, a new lamp was invented: The high pressure sodium (HPS) light. They became common in the late 1980s. It was initially disliked by most residents because of its orange glow, but the sodium vapor streetlight has since become the dominant type on American roadways and most people have become accustomed to the orange/yellow glow. Color-corrected sodium vapor lamps exist but are expensive. These "color corrected" HPS lamps have lower life and are less efficient.
There are two types of sodium vapor streetlights: high-pressure (HPS) and low-pressure (LPS). Of the two, HPS is the more-commonly used type, and it is found in many new streetlight fixtures. Sometimes, older (pre-1970) fixtures may be retrofitted to use HPS lights as well. Virtually all fixtures that are converted to HPS have previously been lit with mercury vapor.
LPS lights are even more efficient than HPS, but produce only a single wavelength of yellow light, resulting in a CRI of zero, meaning colors cannot be differentiated. LPS lamp tubes are also significantly longer with a less intense light output than HPS tubes, so they are suited for low mounting height applications, such as under bridge decks and inside tunnels, where the limited light control is less of a liability and the glare of an intense HPS lamp could be objectionable. LPS generally were rare in the United States, and common mainly in countries like Hawaii, where there are several famous observatories.
HPS lamps have slightly different electrical requirements than do the older MV lamps. Both HPS and MV lamps require a transformer or ballast to change the voltage and regulate the current, however, HPS lamps also require an electrical "starter" circuit—much like older fluorescent lamps in residential use. MV lamps do not require a separate "starter" circuit because they have a special starter element within the bulb used for striking the arc. MV lamps slowly dim over time, and a 20-year-old lamp may emit a very pleasing, but useless, soft green glow, rather than the powerful blue-white light of a new MV lamp. The yellow-spectrum HPS lamps also slowly dim over time but are known for "cycling," where the lamp cycles on and off when it has reached the end of its life cycle. When cycling, the arc within the lamp extinguishes and the lamp must cool down before the starter circuit initializes a new arc. This has been the most recognized downfall of HPS. Some HPS lamps start to burn a pinkish/reddish color at the end of their life (usually when already cycling), or start to burn a pinkish/white color and go dim, or also burn out at the end of their life cycle whether they cycle or not. HPS fixtures can contain a special photocell or ballast that can sense a cycling lamp and shut off the fixture to prevent damage to the ignitor and ballast.
HPS lamps generally have the same rated lifespan as MV lamps, and they give increased light and efficiency at lower wattages. Usually, when an MV light is replaced, it is replaced with a HPS light of a lower wattage, for example, a 175 watt MV fixture will get replaced with a 100 or 150 watt HPS fixture as that will meet or exceed the lumen output of the 175 watt MV fixture. At end of life MV lamps just become dimmer and sometimes color shift towards the green end of the spectrum but continue to consume the same amount of electricity. HPS lamps begin to suffer end-of-life cycling before the amount of useful light becomes visibly diminished, or just burn out. HPS lights come in wattages of 35, 50, 70, 100, 150, 200, 250, 310, 400, 600, 750, and 1,000 watt sizes, while LPS lights come in wattages of 18, 35, 55, 90, 135, and 180 watt sizes.
Although the use of HPS is dramatically decreasing in many large cities, it is still a popular form of use in grow lights, as seen in greenhouses.
Metal halide Edit
In recent years, metal halide lamp (MH) streetlights have illuminated roadways and parking lots. Metal halide has long been popular in business installations and can be found in warehouses, schools, hospitals and office buildings. Unlike the old mercury lights, metal halide casts a true white light. It is not nearly as popular as its sodium counterparts, as it is newer and less efficient than sodium.
Metal halide lights have also been used for retrofitting. Virtually all fixtures that are converted to metal halide have previously been lit with high-pressure sodium (HPS). MH lamps suffer color shift as they age though this has been improving. Actual life expectancy is about 10,000 to 12,000 hours on average. There has also been a noted issue with the lamps "exploding/shattering" during a failure. Metal Halide light bulbs also tend to dim and/or flicker at the end of their life cycles, and on occasion, cycle. Sometimes, they emit a pinkish glow at or near the end of their life cycle which in this case, the bulb just burns out. High cost and low life hours has kept them from becoming popular municipal lighting sources even though they have a much improved CRI around 85. Therefore, the use of metal halide is limited mainly to city and high end street lighting. They are available in clear or coated bulbs. Probe start MH lights (which are less efficient and are also soon to be banned, unlike Mercury Vapor lamps) come in wattages of 50, 70, 100, 175, 250, 400, and 1000 watt sizes, while pulse start MH lights come in sizes of 50, 70, 100, 150, 200, 250, 320, 350, 400, 450, 750, and 1,000 watt sizes. The wattages of pulse start metal halide lamps are similar to HPS lamp wattages.
Ceramic discharge metal halide lamp Edit
Ceramic discharge metal halide lamps promised to be the next step in streetlighting, replacing old mercury vapor and high pressure sodium lamps, especially where a more clear white with better CRI (78–96) and light color retention was desired. Ceramic metal halide lamps give five times more light than comparable tungsten incandescent light bulbs (80–117 lm/W). However, continuing refinements in LED technology have now surpassed most other lighting types.
Induction lamp Edit
An induction lamp features extremely long lamp life (100,000 hours), energy efficiency, high color rendering index, and a color temperature close to incandescent lights. The life of induction (also known as electrodeless fluorescent) lamps is negatively affected by heat, particularly as the temperature exceeds 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit). Since temperatures in this range commonly occur during early night hours in the summer in much of the US, induction lamp applications have not extended beyond test and demonstration projects for street lighting. The larger size of the induction lamps also inhibits the effective control of the light they emit, limiting their use to lower mounting applications. [ according to whom? ] In 2009, PSEG in New Jersey began using induction lighting to replace very old and even some pre-2008 mercury vapor lights, and have had success in their reliability and output of the fixtures. Unfortunately, some failed induction lights were spot replaced with the HPS lights that were being removed to begin with and many new installs, PSEG is still using HPS. An updated design of the induction lights is now being used and these seem more reliable and brighter than the original design. Beginning in September 2011 the City of San Diego, CA will replace some 35,000 street lights with induction lamps costing $16,000,000.00.  In Mexico, the city of Linares and Acapulco also have begun the replacement of 6,500 and 42,000 street lights with induction lamps, selected for their smart controls, since October 2011. A portion of these street lightswill feature smart grid compatibility to allow the lights to be remotely monitored and controlled via the Internet.  
Compact fluorescent lamp Edit
Compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) have been used more frequently as time has improved the quality of these lamps. These lamps have been used on municipal walkways and street lighting though they are still rare at this time. Improvements in reliability still need to be made. Some issues with them are limited lumen output, high heat build up in the self-contained ballast, low life/burnout due to frequent cycling (on/off) of the lamp, and the problem where most fluorescent sources become dimmer in cold weather (or fail to start at all). CFL efficiency is high and CRI is excellent around 85. CFL produces a color temperature around 3000 K with its light being "soft white" around that color temperature. Higher color temperatures are available.
Light emitting diodes Edit
Light emitting diodes (LED) have virtually replaced both incandescent lamps and the occasional fluorescent lamp in traffic signal and crossing sign usage. They are rapidly developing in light output, color rendering, efficiency, and reliability. The cost of LED lighting is still high compared to an incandescent or arc-discharge lamp used for the same purpose, but the cost is decreasing rapidly. Even with the high per-unit cost, the increase in efficiency and increased lifespan make them very attractive for street lighting use. The reduced cost of electricity and maintenance in some cases can offset the increased cost of the lamp.
As with other semiconductors, heat buildup in an LED dramatically reduces its life. The temperature at which this reduction in life occurs is often very near summer evening ambient temperatures. [ citation needed ] Many of the heat-removal technologies used for other semiconductor applications, such as air conditioning systems, fans, or thermal-transfer fluids, are impractical, maintenance-intensive, or cost-prohibitive for street lighting. Airborne dust from industrial and agricultural activities can impair the functioning of finned heat sinks. Achieving good maintenance-free thermal management in an often hostile environment while keeping product cost competitive is the largest hurdle to the widespread adoption of LED street lights. [ citation needed ]
Electric Light Invented - History
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The Invention of the Light Bulb: Davy, Swan and Edison
The first electric light was made in 1800 by Humphry Davy , an English scientist. He experimented with electricity and invented an electric battery. When he connected wires to his battery and a piece of carbon, the carbon glowed, producing light. This is called an electric arc.
Much later, in 1860, the English physicist Sir Joseph Wilson Swan (1828-1914) was determined to devise a practical, long-lasting electric light. He found that a carbon paper filament worked well, but burned up quickly. In 1878, he demonstrated his new electric lamps in Newcastle, England.
In 1877, the American Charles Francis Brush manufactured some carbon arcs to light a public square in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. These arcs were used on a few streets, in a few large office buildings, and even some stores. Electric lights were only used by a few people.
The inventor Thomas Alva Edison (in the USA) experimented with thousands of different filaments to find just the right materials to glow well and be long-lasting. In 1879, Edison discovered that a carbon filament in an oxygen-free bulb glowed but did not burn up for 40 hours. Edison eventually produced a bulb that could glow for over 1500 hours.
Lewis Howard Latimer (1848-1928) improved the bulb by inventing a carbon filament (patented in 1881) Latimer was a member of Edison's research team, which was called "Edison's Pioneers." In 1882, Latimer developed and patented a method of manufacturing his carbon filaments.
In 1903, Willis R. Whitney invented a treatment for the filament so that it wouldn't darken the inside of the bulb as it glowed. In 1910, William David Coolidge (1873-1975) invented a tungsten filament which lasted even longer than the older filaments. The incandescent bulb revolutionized the world.
In 1854 Samuel Edison became the lighthouse keeper and carpenter on the Fort Gratiot military post near Port Huron, Michigan, where the family lived in a substantial home. Alva, as the inventor was known until his second marriage, entered school there and attended sporadically for five years. He was imaginative and inquisitive, but, because much instruction was by rote and he had difficulty hearing, he was bored and was labeled a misfit. To compensate, he became an avid and omnivorous reader. Edison’s lack of formal schooling was not unusual. At the time of the Civil War the average American had attended school a total of 434 days—little more than two years’ schooling by today’s standards.
In 1859 Edison quit school and began working as a trainboy on the railroad between Detroit and Port Huron. Four years earlier, the Michigan Central had initiated the commercial application of the telegraph by using it to control the movement of its trains, and the Civil War brought a vast expansion of transportation and communication. Edison took advantage of the opportunity to learn telegraphy and in 1863 became an apprentice telegrapher.
Messages received on the initial Morse telegraph were inscribed as a series of dots and dashes on a strip of paper that was decoded and read, so Edison’s partial deafness was no handicap. Receivers were increasingly being equipped with a sounding key, however, enabling telegraphers to “read” messages by the clicks. The transformation of telegraphy to an auditory art left Edison more and more disadvantaged during his six-year career as an itinerant telegrapher in the Midwest, the South, Canada, and New England. Amply supplied with ingenuity and insight, he devoted much of his energy toward improving the inchoate equipment and inventing devices to facilitate some of the tasks that his physical limitations made difficult. By January 1869 he had made enough progress with a duplex telegraph (a device capable of transmitting two messages simultaneously on one wire) and a printer, which converted electrical signals to letters, that he abandoned telegraphy for full-time invention and entrepreneurship.
Edison moved to New York City, where he initially went into partnership with Frank L. Pope, a noted electrical expert, to produce the Edison Universal Stock Printer and other printing telegraphs. Between 1870 and 1875 he worked out of Newark, New Jersey, and was involved in a variety of partnerships and complex transactions in the fiercely competitive and convoluted telegraph industry, which was dominated by the Western Union Telegraph Company. As an independent entrepreneur he was available to the highest bidder and played both sides against the middle. During this period he worked on improving an automatic telegraph system for Western Union’s rivals. The automatic telegraph, which recorded messages by means of a chemical reaction engendered by the electrical transmissions, proved of limited commercial success, but the work advanced Edison’s knowledge of chemistry and laid the basis for his development of the electric pen and mimeograph, both important devices in the early office machine industry, and indirectly led to the discovery of the phonograph. Under the aegis of Western Union he devised the quadruplex, capable of transmitting four messages simultaneously over one wire, but railroad baron and Wall Street financier Jay Gould, Western Union’s bitter rival, snatched the quadruplex from the telegraph company’s grasp in December 1874 by paying Edison more than $100,000 in cash, bonds, and stock, one of the larger payments for any invention up to that time. Years of litigation followed.
History of Electricity
Affordable, reliable electricity is fundamental to modern life. Electricity provides clean, safe light around the clock, it cools our homes on hot summer days (and heats many of them in winter), and it quietly breathes life into the digital world we tap into with our smartphones and computers. Although hundreds of millions of Americans plug into the electric grid every day, most of us don’t give the history of electricity a second thought. Where does it come from? What’s its story?
When we take a fresh look at electricity, we see that keeping America powered up is actually an amazing feat—an everyday miracle. Here’s the Story of Electricity.
Although people have known about electricity since ancient times, they’ve only been harnessing its power for about 250 years. Benjamin Franklin’s electricity experiments – including his famous kite experiment in 1752 – showed just how little we knew about electricity in the era of the American revolution and the first industrial revolution. In the time since Franklin’s experiments, our grasp of electricity has grown tremendously, and we are constantly finding new ways to use it to improve our lives.
Ben Franklin’s famous kite experiment
One of the first major breakthroughs in electricity occurred in 1831, when British scientist Michael Faraday discovered the basic principles of electricity generation. Building on the experiments of Franklin and others, he observed that he could create or “induce” electric current by moving magnets inside coils of copper wire. The discovery of electromagnetic induction revolutionized how we use energy. In fact, Faraday’s process is used in modern power production, although today’s power plants produce much stronger currents on a much larger scale than Faraday’s hand-held device.
In the era of modern power plants, coal has always generated more electricity in the U.S. than any other fuel source. In recent decades, we have seen other sources compete for second place: first hydroelectricity, then natural gas, nuclear power, and natural gas again.
Electricity generation mix by fuel type, 1949-2011
We also use electricity to power an increasing number of devices. Our modern electric world began with applications like the telegraph, light bulb, and telephone, and continued with radio, television, and many household appliances. Most recently, electrons have powered the digital age to create what energy expert Vaclav Smil calls our “instantaneously interconnected global civilization.” Technology expert Mark Mills points out that electricity powers an increasing portion of our economy. The always-on data centers that support the internet and “cloud computing” will continue to increase demand for electricity, overwhelming the modest decreases in electricity use in other parts of the economy, such as manufacturing processes.
The ever-growing applications of electricity explain the increasing use of fuels like natural gas, oil, and coal in power generation as opposed to direct uses such as heating or transportation. In 1900, for example, less than two percent of natural gas, oil, and coal were used to make electricity. A century later, 30 percent of our use of natural gas, oil, and coal was devoted to electric power. Smil explains electricity’s appeal: “Electricity is the preferred form of energy because of its high efficiency, instant and effortless access, perfect and easily adjustable flow, cleanliness, and silence at the point of use.”
Increased electricity access has lit corners of the world that were once dark. As international development groups and economists point out, access to electricity is a hallmark of advanced societies and a basic requirement for economic progress. “Next to the increasing importance of hydrocarbons as sources of energy,” economist Erich Zimmermann wrote in 1951, “the rise of electricity is the most characteristic feature of the so-called second industrial revolution.” In recent years, people in countries from China to Kenya have experienced rising living standards, as more people are able to use electricity to keep their homes and schools cool during torrid summers, to refrigerate food that would have otherwise spoiled, and to purify water that would have otherwise been unsafe to drink.
There is, of course, still much more to be done. In 2009, the International Energy Agency estimated that nearly 70 percent of people in Sub-Saharan Africa lacked access to electricity. That means 585.2 million people remain in the dark.
Many parts of the world remain in the dark.
The Dawn of Electric Light in the U.S.
One of the greatest pioneers in electricity was Thomas Edison, who saw electricity as his “field of fields” to “reorganize the life of the world.” Working tirelessly on electricity from his laboratory in New Jersey in the 1870s, America’s greatest inventor brought the incandescent electric light bulb into practical use by the end of that decade and patented the incandescent light bulb in 1880. “When Edison…snatched up the spark of Prometheus in his little pear-shaped glass bulb, ”German historian Emil Ludwig observed, “it meant that fire had been discovered for the second time, that mankind had been delivered again from the curse of night.” Yet Edison’s electric light was even better than fire—it was brighter, more consistent, and safer than the flame of candles or lamps.
Edison’s light bulb was one of the first applications of electricity to modern life. He initially worked with J. P. Morgan and a few privileged customers in New York City in the 1880s to light their homes, pairing his new incandescent bulbs with small generators. Edison’s electric lighting systems were basic by today’s standards but bold at the time—they not only threatened the existing gas lighting industry but radically challenged the status quo by introducing people to an entirely new type of energy. In a few short years, Edison transformed electricity from a science experiment into an exciting, safe, and coveted luxury.
The light bulb—a symbol of innovation and the invention that sparked the electricity revolution.
The Rise of an Industry
In order for the magic of electricity to truly take hold in American life, new industries were needed to build the generators to supply electric power, as well as the new appliances and electric lights that used it. In 1882, with J.P. Morgan funding his efforts, Edison launched the businesses that would later be known as General Electric. In September of that year, he opened the United States’ first central power plant in lower Manhattan—the Pearl Street Station.
Pearl Street was a stroke of genius. Edison connected a large bank of generators to homes and businesses (including the New York Times) in the immediate area through a network of buried copper wires. At that time, there was no “electric grid.” Before Pearl Street, customers who wanted power for electric lights or motors relied on generators located on-site, typically in the basement. Pearl Street’s “central” power plant design was an important shift from small-scale, on-site generation to industrial-scale power, and soon became the model for the entire power generation industry.
The Dynamo Room at the Pearl Street Station, the first power plant in the U.S.
Enter Samuel Insull
Although Edison was a brilliant inventor, he was a disorganized businessman. His inventions came to him faster than the financial capital necessary to carry them out, and Edison preferred to focus on the inventions themselves rather than the paperwork they created. The inventor needed a managerial counterpart. That counterpart arrived in 1881, in the form of a promising 21-year-old from England. Samuel Insull, who began his career in the U.S. as a personal assistant to Edison, astounded the inventor with his business prowess—so much so that Edison soon granted Insull power of attorney over his businesses. But the work with Edison would be just the beginning for Insull—over the next four decades, he built an electricity business that made him the Henry Ford of the modern electricity industry.
Electricity required a different business model because it was different than virtually every other commodity. Electricity had to be consumed the moment it was produced. (Storage was very costly and limited—and still is.) In order for electricity to become accessible and affordable, someone needed to bring together mass efficiencies in production and consumption. Insull saw the opportunities in front of him. Whoever mastered the engineering and the economics of the power grid could take the reins of the rising electricity industry—an industry that was already toppling the stocks of gas light companies and attracting big investors like J.P. Morgan. In 1892, Insull left his job as an executive at the lighting company Edison started (General Electric near New York City) for Chicago Edison (an electricity generation/distribution company, later known as Commonwealth Edison). It was a move that would indelibly change the industry.
Early transmission lines in rural America. Photo Credit: Towers
Insull Builds the Modern Power Grid
Insull was able to achieve what economists call “economies of scale” (cost savings from large-scale operations) by consolidating the mom-and-pop electricity providers and closing small generators in favor of larger, more efficient units manufactured by General Electric. He also found efficiencies in customer sales—the more customers he had, the more efficiently he could run his generators, and the cheaper it was to provide power. As Insull’s business grew, he was able to find better ways of providing electricity to more and more people.
1903 turbine hall at Fisk Street Station
Insull became a master salesman for all things electric. In order to use his generators more efficiently (i.e., run them at full capacity for more hours of the day), he offered to power elevators and streetcars during the daytime when there was less demand for electric lighting.
Insull also used high-voltage transmission lines to spread electricity to the suburbs and then to the countryside. Because customers inside and outside cities used power at different times, Insull was able to provide power to both types of customers more efficiently than if he had served them independently. Such diversification, served by ever-larger and more efficient generators, brought the price of a kilowatt-hour down. Electricity prices fell year after year as the young industry grew between 1902 to 1930.
Insull also created new electricity pricing schemes. For example, he introduced two-part pricing to handle customers whose electricity use fluctuated widely or spiked for brief periods. Given that electricity has to be produced and consumed simultaneously, providing power to a customer who demanded electricity in large surges could be unprofitable—new generators built to meet the intermittent surges in demand would only run a fraction of the time, but would have to remain constantly at the ready. Examples of customers that have “peaky” demand include metal-smelting factories that use huge amounts of power in brief bursts to run electric furnaces.
To be able to provide power for “peaky” customers, Insull implemented a demand charge (a fixed fee) in addition to the typical usage charge. That way, the customer paid for the privilege to use a lot of electricity in a little time. In this way, Insull could profitably expand his business to include all types of customers.
Lastly, Insull found efficiencies by interconnecting or “networking” power grids for backup and reliability, eliminating the need to build (redundant) generation in the same service area.
Consolidation. Mass production. Mass consumption. Rural electrification. Two-part pricing. Networked power. Samuel Insull did for electricity what Henry Ford did for the automobile—he turned a luxury product into an affordable part of everyday life for millions of Americans. Where Edison provided the novelty of electric light to Manhattan’s upper class, Insull’s innovations made electricity accessible to all.
Electricity Becomes Politicized
The electricity industry in the U.S. was intertwined with politics from the beginning. Before Pearl Street ever opened, Edison had to bribe New York politicians just to begin laying the foundations of his work. As Time magazine recounts, Edison “obtained with great difficulty the consent of New York’s famously corrupt city government to build his proposed network on the southern tip of Manhattan. (He got their approval in part by plying them with a lavish champagne dinner at Menlo Park catered by Delmonico’s, then New York’s finest restaurant.)” As the early electricity industry grew, it became more involved with city politics over lighting contracts. Electricity providers had to receive franchise rights from city officials in order to serve local areas, opening the door for those officials to extort power companies for campaign contributions or personal bribes.
Early on, electricity pioneers faced two populist threats from local governments. One was rate ordinances that could arbitrarily require rate rollbacks or impose rate ceilings, thus ruining profitability. The second was municipalization, whereby private investments in electricity infrastructure would be taken over by city or county government. This was the political environment that Samuel Insull found in Chicago and other electricity entrepreneurs faced across the country.
Insull’s solution was new legislation that would replace local regulation with statewide regulation of power companies by public utility commissions (modeled after state railroad commissions). In this arrangement, the state commissions would establish a maximum rate for the power company to charge its customers based on the company’s cost of providing electric service (plus a reasonable rate of return).
In exchange for such rate regulation, the state commissions gave the power company an exclusive franchise to serve a given geographical area (a legal monopoly). The early electricity industry was a natural monopoly (according to many economists and regulators, and Insull himself) which turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy: state regulators assumed power companies were bound to be monopolies, so they regulated them accordingly and gave them legal monopoly status. The prospect of a true, laissez-faire electricity market was never on the table.
Insull needed time and a huge public relations effort to convince the industry that statewide public utility regulation was the best way to provide low-cost power and dodge harsh local regulation or takeover. Wisconsin and New York were the first states to extend state-level rate regulation to the electricity industry in 1907. By 1914, forty-three other states had followed suit and created state-level commissions to oversee electric utilities.
These state public utility commissions, formed in the early 20 th century, still regulate utilities. In theory, their rate regulation is supposed to protect the consumer, but in practice it often benefits other interest groups—or the utilities themselves—at the expense of consumers. Despite these regulations, Insull continued to provide inexpensive power to a greater number of customers through the first three decades of the 20 th century.
Tragically, the Great Depression financially ruined Insull’s expanding enterprises. His indebted holding company collapsed and legal battles ensued. Facing trial in 1934, he was quoted in newspapers as saying “I am fighting not only for freedom but for complete vindication. I have erred, but my greatest error was in underestimating the effects of the financial panic on American securities, and particularly on the companies I was trying to build. I worked with all my energy to save those companies.”
Insull was acquitted but lost his companies and wealth, and fell into disrepute and obscurity. Public knowledge of his contributions as a pioneer of the modern power grid seems to have died along with him in 1938. As Forrest McDonald wrote of the acquittal in Insull’s biography, “For his fifty-three years of labor to make electric power universally cheap and abundant, Insull had his reward from a grateful people: He was allowed to die outside prison.”
State regulation and Insull’s tragic fall ultimately led to federal intervention into electricity beyond hydroelectric licensing, the founding job of the Federal Power Commission (est. 1920.) In 1935, the Federal Power Act authorized the Federal Power Commission—now the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)—to apply “just and reasonable” cost-based rate regulation to the wholesale power market (along the same lines as state-level regulation of retail rates). Another law, the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, required multi-state companies to divest properties to operate in only one state.
Federal intervention grew again in the energy-troubled 1970s. The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 required electric utilities to buy power from independent generators, successfully creating a new industry segment but also opening the door for intermittent generation from renewable sources to enter—and even destabilize—the growing grid. 23] In fear of using up limited energy and natural resources, Congress also passed new legislation designed to curb electricity use and promote environmental goals. New agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (1970) and the Department of Energy (1977) were created to regulate different aspects of electricity, including generation from coal-burning power plants.
In the 1990s, federal regulation of electricity shifted towards a market-based approach. Deregulation had proven beneficial in reducing the cost and improving the quality of tightly regulated areas like the airline industry, and regulators were interested in bringing the same benefits to the electricity industry.
In 1996, FERC attempted to restructure the industry by imposing an “open access” model on utilities. FERC’s intent was to “remove impediments to competition in the wholesale bulk power marketplace.” Despite FERC’s focus on competition, electricity transmission remains heavily regulated. Hence, the “deregulation” of electricity in the 1990s was in fact “re-regulation.” Wholesale electricity markets continue to evolve, with market forces and federal regulations colliding at each step.
Currently, the electric power sector faces an unprecedented amount of federal intervention from several different agencies. Some of the most active are the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), FERC, and the Department of Energy.
The EPA proposed a new rule in 2014 to limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. The rule threatens to close a large portion of the reliable coal-fired electricity supply in the U.S. As a result, the rule will undercut power companies’ ability to meet electricity demand safely and reliably. The EPA rule also comes at huge cost to American families and businesses that use electricity every day—by 2030, the rule is estimated to increase electricity bills by a combined $290 billion.
FERC, with its mandate to ensure just and reasonable wholesale rates, has long been involved in every aspect of wholesale electricity markets. In 2005, it received increased authority from Congress to further regulate the reliability of the power grid, and to oversee wholesale electricity markets. Recent FERC rules favoring renewable sources of electricity have made the agency more political than ever before and raised its profile. Conflicts over FERC leadership—between Congress, the White House, and policy and industry groups—reached a fever pitch in 2013 and 2014 with two nominees to chair the agency being denied the job by Congress.
Meanwhile, the Department of Energy has also encouraged renewable sources of electricity through its national laboratories and essentially banned the use of certain technologies—such as the familiar incandescent light bulb—by establishing energy efficiency mandates. In short, nearly every aspect of electricity is now heavily regulated by multiple federal agencies.
A Powerful Vision
Electricity remains a growth industry today, in spite of political meddling at the local, state, and federal level. New vistas for electricity will always be there for people to discover, but that discovery will require the freedom to inspire new inventions. Let the next generation of electricity entrepreneurs be driven—like Edison and Insull—by the productive forces of human ingenuity and healthy competition.
Electricity is modern life. Without access to reliable power, our lives would be much more like they were before the industrial revolution (to quote Thomas Hobbes): “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Nearly every feature of modern civilization depends on affordable, reliable electricity and the things it powers—lamps and heaters to safely keep our homes well-lit and comfortable, smart phones to stay in touch with loved ones, and always-on data centers to give us a reliable Internet—among countless others. It is so crucial to modern life, in fact, that the history of electricity is really the history of the modern world.
The Electric Light System
Replica of Thomas Edison's first lightbulb.
Thomas Alva Edison did not invent the first light bulb. Surprised? Even before Edison was born, scientists had experimented with making light bulbs. These bulbs burned out after a few minutes.
What Edison invented was the first incandescent light that was practical, that would light for hours and hours. He and his "muckers" also had to invent hundreds of other parts to make the light bulbs in your home work. Light switches, electric meters, wiring--all these had to be invented too. This took several years of experiments. Ludwig Boehm of Germany carefully blew the glass to make light bulbs. Charles Batchelor of Great Britain tested one thing after another to make the filament, the tiny thread that glows inside a light bulb. Platinum, rubber, even the black soot from kerosene lamps--Batchelor tried thousands of materials. The lights still would not burn long enough.In the fall of 1879, the muckers tested a small cotton thread as a filament. (Some books give the date as October 21, but new research has proven this to be false.) First they carbonized it, burning it to make it hard. They placed it inside the glass, carefully forced the air out with a special vacuum pump and sealed the bulb. All the months of experiments paid off! The bulb burned at least 13 hours. (Some books say it burned even longer.)
Edison and his muckers had a long lasting light bulb. For the next several years the muckers built and tested the different parts of the electric power system. John Kruesi of Switzerland designed the dynamo that generated electric power, the "Long-Waisted Mary Ann." Batchelor found an even better filament than the cotton thread--bamboo from Japan.